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Ethical decision making during a healthcare crisis: a resource allocation framework and tool


The COVID-19 pandemic has strained healthcare resources the world over, requiring healthcare providers to make resource allocation decisions under extraordinary pressures. A year later, our understanding of COVID-19 has advanced, but our process for making ethical decisions surrounding resource allocation has not. During the first wave of the pandemic, our institution uniformly ramped-down clinical activity to accommodate the anticipated demands of COVID-19, resulting in resource waste and inefficiency. In preparation for the second wave, we sought to make such ramp down decisions more prudently and ethically. We report the development of a tool that can be used to make fair and ethical decisions in times of resource scarcity. We formed an interprofessional team to develop and use this tool to ensure that a diverse range of stakeholder perspectives were represented in this development process. This team, called the clinical activity recovery team, established institutional objectives that were combined with well-established procedural values, substantive ethical principles and decision-making criteria by using a variation on the well-known accountability for reasonableness ethical framework. The result of this is a stepwise, semiquantitative, ethical decision tool that can be applied to resource allocation challenges in order to reach fair and ethically defensible decisions. This ethical decision tool can be applied in various contexts and may prove useful at both the institutional and the departmental level; indeed this is how it is applied at our centre. As the second wave of COVID-19 strains healthcare resources, this tool can help clinical leaders to make fair decisions.

  • allocation of health care resources
  • clinical ethics
  • COVID-19
  • decision-making
  • surgery

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